Cigars and Stripes, the hip lounge and comedy club on old Route 66 in Berwyn has plenty of atmosphere – most of which cannot be easily explained. Customers and paranormal researchers are saying it is a "hot spot” in more ways than one.
"It was more than weird. It was very weird,” said Simone Tervydis of Cicero as she and her friend, Bernice Jan tried to describe their astonishment when they saw the top of a martini shaker flip upside down and then roll across the bar at Cigars and Stripes. "The top just lifted up on its own. We were shocked and jolted. We all looked at one another. It was very weird.”
Chicago-based, Supernatural Occurrence Studies (SOS), Inc. investigators have been recording the testimonials and first-hand accounts of unexplainable occurrences and sightings that patrons of the hip eclectic lounge and comedy club have been experiencing. SOS Inc. Theorist Dave Black said he "sensed things” as he took a walk around the basement and first floor of the lounge. "There’s definitely something going on in this building,” he said.
"From what I hear of the all the testimonials, it has been manifesting itself in various ways. People have been hearing things, seeing things and things have been moving.”
Black said there are multiple testimonials of glasses falling off shelves, the phone lifting up by itself, bottles falling and martini shakers just flipping in the air. "All the people are watching this happen,” said Black.
Though he’s somewhat skeptical about the paranormal "happenings”, Cigars and Stripes’ owner, Ronn Vrhel explained that when they were first renovating the 80 year old building five years ago, his wife heard sounds like there were parties going on downstairs. When he would go downstairs to check, there was nothing there.
Vrhel said that not long ago, he lost his large bundle of keys and searched high and low for them. A short time later, he heard a loud sound and "the keys dropped out of nowhere” in plain view of all the customers who were seated at the bar.
"The keys slammed off one of the corners and just flew down the bar. I grabbed them and people were saying, "What was that all about? Where did those keys come from?”
Black said that while doing some of the research, he witnessed some unique experiences as well as "very intense” sensations in the basement. His own accounts include hearing someone walking down the stairs – when no one was there, and hearing noises and activity in the empty basement.
SOS Inc. has been researching the paranormal since 1998. They’ve explored some well-known haunts such as Bachelor’s Grove, The House of Blues and the sites of some well-known murders.
"The ultimate goal is to collectively put together a story of what’s taking place. We also want to make sure that every piece of information is backed by fact.
"There are a lot of testimonials from bartenders and customers. At least 2 out of every 15 regulars have experienced something,” said Vrhel who is also researching the building’s history.
At least five customers have seen a shadowy figure walking down the hallway at the rear of the bar. One customer described seeing the shadowy figure "scoot down the hall and around the corner”.
Vrhel invited Spiritual Advisor Lee Murphy to walk through the building to see if her insight validated the ongoing investigations of supernatural activity. After touring the main floor and the basement of Cigars and Stripes, Murphy confirmed the findings of the SOS Inc. group - several spots were charged with energy. Her insight brought to life many stories of the past as well as many possible explanations of the haunting activity.
Murphy’s insight points to several sources of supernatural activity, including a former customer who fell dead in the business entryway nearly 30 years ago, and who may still be walking in to enjoy the social atmosphere.
A presence at the rear of the building is sensed to be an elderly woman who prayed and worried considerably about the well-being of family and friends.
The large hand-crafted bar, which was brought over from the former Stardust Lounge several blocks down from Cigars and Stripes, may be the source of a true love story playing out in some of the current "playful” events.
Murphy said that the energies of the bar are especially intense in one location, which Vrhel shared was the place where Rose, the late former owner of the bar, was best remembered to sit. Rose and her husband Joe owned the Stardust Lounge, and he built and hand-crafted the bar especially for her. Murphy said that Rose’s presence is an exceptionally loving one.
As investigative results are gathered and more and more testimonials of unexplainable occurrences and sightings are being documented, the Supernatural Occurrence Studies, Inc. group has agreed that the place is definitely haunted.
"I do believe that this location is haunted,” said SOS Vice-President William Wolfe who, along with his group, made an overnight visit to the location.
The SOS group, which was founded in 1998, set up their equipment in various locations of the first floor and basement, especially in the areas that have been noted to have the most paranormal activity. After leaving the location for several hours, the group returned to study the results of the camcorders, infrared cameras and tapes.
When the group played back the tape recording, definite sounds and voices could be heard. "We heard knocking sounds, voices, whispering and conversations. One voice sounded like it was saying ‘No, no, you can’t!’ in a man’s voice. There were some howling or screaming sounds in the background, too. We will definitely do some more audio recording here,” said SOS Theorist/Field Guide Dave Black who added that extensive analysis will be performed on the EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) tapes.
Sophisticated energy readings showed that there were drastic temperature variations in some locations. "We were getting readings of a 30 degree temperature variance in the area known as the hot spot,” said Wolfe.
"You never know with old buildings, and you suspect explanations such as drafts and such. They said, ‘Get over here. You have to check this out!’ They were feeling something. I went over there and it was so intense that my eyes started watering and I was having difficulty breathing. I had to put my hand on the stool to stay upright. We all felt it,” said Black.
Numerous Cigars and Stripes customers have reported seeing a shadowy figure in the hallway near the rear of the bar. Owner Ronn Vrhel said that most people describe it as an outline of a figure. "People describe it as having no arms or legs – just a shape. They see it go around the corner,” he said.
SOS researchers and many of the customers report hearing footsteps on the stairs when no one is there. Sounds have been heard in the basement as well. Wolfe said that the night they did their research, they heard sounds like beer cans being thrown around. "Ronn doesn’t have beer cans in the lounge, only bottles,” he said.
Wolfe also thinks that the location was likely an Al Capone haunt. "Based on the history of the place with people dying at the bar and the age of the building, it’s a good possibility that Capone visited here or offered his protection for the businesses that were here. It’s a prime location for Capone tactics,” said Wolfe.
With a long list of stories which include four deaths in the building, keys dropping out of nowhere, martini shaker tops flipping and rolling down the bar, phones falling off the hook and then ringing, light switches and spotlights turning on by themselves and bottles and glasses toppling with no reason, the conclusions are clear that the place is "special”.
Spiritual Advisor Lee Murphy agrees that the place has many stories to tell. She said that for the most part, the place has a "very colorful” energy. She walked through the basement, upstairs game room and bar area and told Vrhel some of the stories she "picked up” which included the story of a former owner who prayed and worried about her family and friends. She said it is a good possibility that this former occupant, who passed away on the premises, still occupies the scene and even, perhaps, cares for the present owners and/or customers in some way.
Murphy feels that there is a special energy attached to the hand-crafted bar which came from the former Stardust Lounge located several blocks from Cigars and Stripes. Vrhel had always admired the bar, brought it to his establishment and set it in place carefully.
Murphy said she feels especially strong impressions from the area that Rose, the former owner, used to sit most often. Vrhel said that the "hot spot” seems to be a favorite place for many customers. Murphy offered an explanation as to why that might be.
According to Murphy, Rose’s energy is clearly present and may even be working in a match-making kind of scenario. "I sensed that Rose’s relationship with her husband was very loving and special. She may be helping others in finding the same kind of relationship. She seems to have had a very good understanding about such things,” offered Murphy.
Along with it being a spot where many like to gather, the "hot spot” was the place where two customers met and then married not too long ago, explained Vrhel. "It’s likely to be a great place to meet someone or even to improve your existing relationship. The energy is really very special,” said Murphy as she sat in Rose’s former seat.
Vrhel said he is getting used to the occurrences and even feels like something is working on his behalf. "A while back I was talking about getting out of the business. It seems like some of these things really started to happen then. I get the definite impression that ‘they’ want me to stay and are looking out for us in some way,” he said.
"In conclusion, yes, this bar is haunted. It probably has more activity than a lot of other places we’ve been to and documented. There are a lot of testimonials - to a degree that I haven’t experienced in most places we have been,” said Black.
Dave "Od” Black first sensed the strange goings-on when he was at the lounge performing his stand-up comedy act. After the show, the comedian/paranormal investigator asked Vrhel if his place was haunted. "Funny you should mention it…” answered Vrhel.
Spiritual Advisor Lee Murphy has assisted police investigations and worked with clients across the U.S. for almost 25 years. She is semi-retired and lives in the Western suburbs.